Boots enter North Waziristan, finally


ISLAMABAD: So, the long-awaited military assault has finally been launched in North Waziristan. For over a decade, the region harboured local and foreign militants of different origins and nationalities, including Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and Uighur. Some militant groups holding sway in the region were considered by Pakistan as pro-state while others anti-state. 
Prominent among the local militant groups of good guys were the ones led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and slain Mullah Nazir, while the Haqqani network of Afghan militants was the only foreign militant outfit which was given an open space to operate from the region. Last month, a major faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which walked out from the umbrella organisation was willing to enter into the list of friendly groups, but the government did not give a serious thought to the option. 
Now, as the military has started a “comprehensive” offensive in the region of battle-hardened fighters, the government needs to disclose whether the operation has been carried out against all militant groups without any discrimination of favourites and non-favourites or is it just aimed at eliminating the bad guys who challenge the writ of the state through their criminal and violent actions.
One way or the other, all these groups of the “so-called” good and bad elements have an understanding not to interfere in each other’s sphere of influence. They have carved out their own chunks of territories in the tribal badlands where they call all types of shots – administrative, social, religious, legal, political and military and God knows what else. Their source of inspiration is the same. They have a history of being good at one time while bad at another. 
The question that needs to be answered is that if the military operation ends successfully and the displaced families return to their abandoned homes, will they find themselves in the midst of arms-totting good militants or the Sharif-led government, fond to be remembered in history for its mega projects, like metro-bus services, highways and motorways, has really thought something big for the down-trodden tribesmen once they go back to their areas. They have already suffered immensely due to ongoing war on terror. They are, no doubt, very simple people and their minds can easily be moulded the way you want. 
In a chat with a senior intelligence official familiar with the developments in the volatile region, it was learnt that the kidnapped vice chancellor of Peshawar’s Islamia College University Dr Ajmal Khan has indoctrinated several militants by educating them in Shawal Valley of North Waziristan. He was saying that the militants surrounding him give him exceptional regard while his abductors shy away from seeing him. If a single teacher can help change perception of the people who know nothing except killing or to be killed, then a state can do wonders if it has a will and vision. 
The state had brainwashed them at ease when it wanted the die-hard religious and conservative tribesmen to take up guns in the name of religion and made them formidable fighters to pursue its strategic goals. Has it now realized to reverse the trend as if, perhaps, it doesn’t work any longer? If such is the case, as some argue it is, then the government needs to come up with a clear policy and vision at strategic, ideological, political and foreign policy levels while the military should keep on cleansing the dens of militancy there. The operation in North Waziristan will not end the scourge of terrorism in the country unless a clear policy is adopted to address militancy in all shapes and colours rather then to focus on one particular group while sparing other outfits. The writ of the state can not be established unless the menace is rooted out in every corner of the country.
To start with, the government simply needs to stop calling them tribals. It sounds as if the people living on the border with Afghanistan are tribals while the rest of Pakistanis are civilized. They should be ensured that they are as civilized as the rest of the countrymen/women. This simple move does not require a single penny not any effort. The people of tribal regions deserve the same rights, freedom, protection and economic opportunities which are available to people in other parts of the country. For sustainable peace and development, the government needs to introduce political, economic, social and administrative reforms in tribal areas. The fundamental rights of the residents of the region cannot be guaranteed unless the government decides to amend the constitution and transfer the legislative and administrative powers of tribal areas from the president to parliament.
Although, the areas have representation in parliament but its lawmakers are barred from legislation for their people. A comprehensive package should be announced for them, with special focus on health, education and employment. The authority to decide on future status of the tribal regions should be given to its people, whether they are willing to maintain their current status or form a separate province or merge into the adjacent north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Moreover, media should be allowed to report on actual situation and miseries of the people from the regions. So far, most of the stuff published in media is attributed to anonymous sources with different newspapers and TV stations quoting contradictory casualty figures and names of places and persons in its stories. 
Our drawing room intellectuals, never mind to stretch their imagination to unimaginable extent while stocking laughable content in a rather bizarre move to give credence to their otherwise shallow mental power while discussing affairs of tribal areas despite not having a shred of credible know-how about the FATA and its people. Therefore, the civilian and military leadership as well as the masses needs to be extra careful while making opinions on table talks. Anyways, to cut the conversation short, the gains of military offensive can only be retained if it is coupled with an ambitious and revolutionary agenda for the deprived masses of tribal areas.

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